Party at Etcetera Theatre
Review by Michael Bonnet
Anyone who has ever had the misfortune to stray into the one part shambolic to two parts self-aggrandising world of student politics will find the setting for this satirical offering from Tom Basden embarrassingly familiar. But a political party with no name, five members and a meeting room that doubles-up as a garden shed proves rich enough a concept to comfortably provide an hour’s worth of laughs.
Self-styled leader Jared (Joseph Banks) chairs the assembly, much to the dismay of cynical mocker Jonsey (Owen Petty), ditsy feminist Phoebe (Harriet Layhe) and “passionately, passionately liberal” Mel (Lauren Orrock). While permanently bemused Duncan (Sam Prior), only invited to prevent a voting stalemate and whose father conveniently owns a printers for promotional material, is just disappointed that this isn’t a party in the conventional sense.
Not that there would be time for such frivolous activities with the serious business of adding to a manifesto that currently consists solely of the word “democracy” and money permitting, a space program. These would-be world leaders decide that they have to bravely take an opinion on everything. No matter if it’s patently obvious: “I’m very much against terror”, or more often than not a topic which they have no knowledge of whatsoever: how paint is made, what Armenia is famous for, the origins of the rainbow flag, or simply, China.
Basden’s lampooning of the idealism and naiveté of youth is both cutting, sympathetic and, one can only suspect, nostalgic. The pretentiousness of a group of middle-class students who see the employed and the working class as exotic is undeniable. But the debates that go off on every conceivable tangent and cultural reference points which include a Thomas the Tank Engine moneybox as the party’s treasury, remind us that this is just children playing at politics. It’s not their ignorance which we should hold against them, but their earnestness. As Duncan, who develops from class idiot to the sole voice of reason, muses “do we not need any real adults to form a party?”
The jokes are undeniably slick and confusion between what constitutes sex-trafficking and dogging draws one of the biggest laughs of the evening. It could be said that Party tells us more about students than it does about politics. And whilst it’s certainly true that this isn’t a political satire in the vein of say The Thick of It, there are lines that transcend the play’s light-hearted setting. Early on for instance there is a discussion of whether the politically correct pronoun to refer to Muslims is “them”, “they” or “those”, whilst by the end the party’s preferred method of voting has evolved from “weakest link style” to the single transferable vote, culminating in a most satisfying finale.
Tom Basden’s Party by Stone Fox Productions runs at Etcetera Theatre until 13th January